by Tom Harris, Executive Director, ICSC, ©2017

(May 8, 2017) — If President Donald Trump merely pulls the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, it will be like cutting the head off a dandelion. It will look good for a while until equally bad agreements quickly grow back when a Democrat occupies the White House again. Trump needs to dig up the roots of Paris—the 1992 U.N. climate treaty—if he is to keep his campaign promise to “stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.”

Trump can, and should, get the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, of course. Besides the scientifically unfounded objective of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels,” as if we had a global thermostat, the agreement lets so-called developing countries almost entirely off the hook despite the fact that non-OECD countries are now the greatest source of energy related emissions. Consider the agreement’s emission targets for the U.S. versus China, currently the world’s largest emitter, for example:

The Obama administration agreed to an economy-wide target of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas (82% of which is carbon dioxide (CO2)) emissions by 26%-28% below its 2005 level in 2025.

China agreed “to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030” and to other measures such as those designed to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption. Taking into consideration expected economic growth in China and other factors, their target translates into about a 70% increase above its 2005 level in 2025.

Yet writing in the Chicago Tribune, Paul Bodnar, a Special Assistant to former-President Obama and a key architect of the 2014 U.S.-China deal (which has the same emission targets as Paris), echoes the position of many opinion leaders when he asserted, “The Paris Agreement…puts China, India, and other emerging markets on equal footing with the United States.”

Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth. It will not even be necessary for developing nations to meet their weak Paris emission targets anyway. They have an out-clause, one not applicable to developed countries.

The Paris Agreement starts:

“The Parties to this Agreement, being Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [FCCC], hereinafter referred to as ‘the Convention’,…”.

“The Convention,” referenced 51 times in the Paris Agreement, is the foundation of the agreement. It is the 1992 U.N. climate treaty signed by President George H. W. Bush at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and later was ratified by the U.S. Senate. It sets the ground rules for many U.N. climate agreements, including Paris.

Ignored by environmental groups and their allies in the media is Article 4 in the FCCC, which states:

“Economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.”

Actions that significantly reduce CO2 emissions would entail dramatically cutting back on the use of coal, the source of most of the developing world’s electricity. As coal is usually the least expensive source of power, reducing CO2 output by restricting coal use would undoubtedly interfere with development priorities.

So developing countries almost certainly won’t do it, citing FCCC Article 4 as their excuse. President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines (his country gets almost a third of its power from coal) gave us a preview of what we should expect when he said last July:

“You are trying to stymie [our growth] with an agreement … That’s stupid. I will not honor that.”

Climate treaty supporters have speculated that the inclusion of a new phrase added to the agreements in 2014—that countries’ responsibilities will be decided “in light of different national circumstances”—will impose tougher requirements on poor nations as they develop.

This is naïve.

Article 4 has been the foundation of all UN climate negotiations, and developing countries will not allow this to change. Chinese negotiator Su Wei made this clear when he explained his government’s position that the purpose of the Paris Agreement is to “reinforce and enhance” the FCCC, not rewrite it.

Before leaving office, Obama did his best to ‘Trump-proof’ his climate change agenda; even giving $1/2 billion to the U.N. climate fund in his last three days. Trump needs to Democrat-proof his agenda and clearly, the best way to do that is to withdraw from the FCCC completely, which he can do without Senate approval. Unlike Paris, which stipulates that the earliest a country can quit the agreement is November 2020, withdrawal from the FCCC is allowed with one year’s notice. And both Article 25 of the FCCC and Article 28 of the Paris Agreement concur—once a signatory exits the Convention, they are out of all agreements that are based on the FCCC, including Paris.

If all the president does is withdraw from the Paris Agreement, then not only will the U.S. still be stuck with huge bills from the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund and other misguided FCCC-based initiatives, but Trump will be leaving the door wide open for future Democratic presidents to easily get the U.S. back into another Paris. This is precisely what happened in Canada.

In 2011, the Conservative government withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol but did not withdraw from the FCCC. So when the Conservatives lost power in 2015, it was easy for the new Liberal government to agree to another FCCC-based treaty—the Paris Agreement. The agreement starts, “This Agreement shall be open for signature … by States … that are Parties to the Convention.” Therefore, had Canada no longer been party to the Convention, signing on to Paris would have been more difficult.

As with most weeds, a thick, healthy lawn, mowed high, is your best defense against dandelions. Similarly, the best defense against expensive and unwarranted climate change agreements is healthy, open debate, independent of political correctness. Trump has done Americans a great service by encouraging the debate. Now, he has to finish the job and pull the Paris weed out by its roots by withdrawing the U.S. from the FCCC.


Tom Harris is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition.





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